That business is staging a comeback with renewed vigour after easing of pandemic-induced restrictions has been amply demonstrated by the energetic performance of the Inland Container Depots (ICDs) of the country. Especially, the container handling activity by the ICDs has witnessed an unforeseen rise last year (2021) by more than 25 per cent in comparison with what it was in the year before (2020). As expected, the apparel products constituted practically the entire volume of the export cargoes handled by the ICDs. Evidently, the driver of this surge in export has been the overseas buyers who resumed placing orders in full swing with Bangladesh's apparel manufacturers. What is further signifying is the fact that the spike in external trade as evidenced from the ICDs' container handling was as high as one million Twenty-foot Equivalent Units (TEUs) or more in 2021. Notably, it was the highest ever since the ICDs were established more than three decades ago.
Reassuringly, far from showing any decline, the rising trend in foreign trade is continuing also in the current year. According to the ICD-operators, compared to the 2020, the overall trade has recorded a 16 per cent growth in 2021. At this point, one may well contend that export is not all about external trade as import is also its another component. In that case, one would also like to know about the volume of import transacted through the ICDs. True, the volume of imported cargoes handled by the ICDs during the period under review has been a mere trickle of around 2.3 peer cent, a rather negative trend. In fact, ICDs' import figure does not give us the whole picture as they (ICDs) operate only 25 per cent of the country's total import. Clearly, the robustness of external trade as reflected through ICDs' increased handling of freight, which was all-time high (500 per cent plus), was not incidental.
As the growth in the volume of foreign-bound cargoes has not slowed down as yet, it may well be an indicator of a durable change in the pattern of the country's foreign trade. Even so, the robust trend in external trade as made evident from the ICDs' data should not be seen as something unique for Bangladesh. For, last year, the World Trade Organisation (WTO) had already noted that the recovery of world trade, especially in merchandise, would be faster than expected in the second half of 2021. It even forecasted more than 8.0 per cent increase in the volume of merchandise trade after having fallen to 5.3 per cent in 2020. So, last year's rebound in trade volume was global and Bangladesh was not an exception to it. This being so, the point is to continue with the growth trend.
The fact that nearly a hundred per cent of the foreign-bound containers were apparel items, though very uplifting for this particular sector, may not be entirely an occasion for unmixed joy. Because, it has manifestly shown how dependent our export still is on a single category of items, the apparel products. Therefore, it warrants redoubling our efforts to get out of the single-item export trap. Against this backdrop, the focus of the new year should be to add additional items to the country's export basket so that it is more viable and may stand on a sounder footing than it is now.